Vanity Fair was the first celebrity magazine. Launched in America in 1913, it heralded the era of movie stars and socialites. The first section of this exhibition covers the period up to 1933, and the elevation of portrait photography to something close to an art form.
There are some cracking pictures: Greta Garbo being intensely Swedish, Gary Cooper looking rugged, James Joyce and Jean Cocteau. Some pictures seem very artificial, others are more spontaneous, but they all serve to project an image of the sitter for posterity. Many photographers were as renowned as their subjects; Edward Steichen commands a whole wall of images.
The magazine ceased publication for 47 years until it was relaunched in the glitzy 1980s. Again the photographers are celebrated: Annie Leibovitz, Mario Testino, Helmut Newton, but do today's stars measure up to those of the classic era? Is Tom Cruise up there with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.? What of Madonna and Josephine Baker?
One difficulty is that the more recent Vanity Fair seems to be trying too hard to recapture the magic of the old days. Again there are some great pictures, but these days we are far more cynical about fame. Also, a strikingly contrived photograph can be nice, but 100 of them in one room is too much.
Until Sep 21, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 1 Queen Street, Edinburgh, Mon to Wed and Fri to Sun 10am to 5pm, Thu 10am to 7pm, £6, £4 concs. Tel: 0131 624 6200. www.nationalgalleries.org
Text and image by Metro, UK